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Catullus

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Supposed Villa of Catullus, Sirmione, Lake Garda

Supposed Villa of Catullus, Sirmione, Lake Garda

CC. David Spender at Flickr.com http://www.flickr.com/photos/dspender/2791927587/

 

 

Who Is Catullus?:

Catullus was a short-lived, but very influential Roman poet who lived from c. 84 B.C.-54 B.C. Little is known about his background, but he probably came from an equestrian family in Verona.

Political Life:

Catullus is known to have served on the staff of his friend Memmius, Propraetor of Bithynia 57-6 B.C. Catullus was friends with many other prominent names of the first century B.C. and appears to have met Julius Caesar at his father's villa at Sirmio. Catullus poked fun at Caesar in his verse, but then reconciled with the great man, according to Suetonius (Suet. Iul. 73).

Catullus as Neoteric:

The neoterics were an avant garde group of Latin poets who turned away from their Roman predecessors, and instead looked at Hellenistic style. The neoteric poets, including Catullus, came mostly from northern Italy rather than Rome itself. In line with their new style, Catullus' poetry was lighter than what came before. Instead of ponderous epics, he wrote small ones called epyllia.

The Body of Catullus' Poetry:

You could cover the poems of Catullus in a single Latin course because there are only 114 of them, many of them very short. They are customarily divided into groups on the basis of meter. Sometimes they are divided on the basis of topic. There is a series of poems about the rise and fall of his love affair with Lesbia and a short series on his rivals Furius and Aurelius. 61-68 are Catullus' long poems, including two wedding poems. Poems 69–116 are epigrams. The numbering discrepancy is based on the idea that some poems are spurious.

Lesbia:

Catullus not only lived at the time of Julius Caesar, but also Cicero, Clodius, and Clodius' disreputable married sister, Clodia. Cicero suffered at the hands of Clodius and Catullus is thought to have suffered emotional torment at the hands of Clodia. The name Lesbia is thought to be a pseudonym for Clodia. Although there are other Lesbia poems later in the corpus, poems ("carmina") 2, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11 form the first part of the Lesbia cycle.

Furius and Aurelius:

The poems about Furius and Aurelius (11, 16) touch on issues of homosexuality and poetic theory. Funny and shocking, 16 lends itself to provocative translation. I referred to Furius and Aurelius as rivals of Catullus, but it is not at all clear what the relationships are among the three men.

Catllus Carmen 101: Ave Atque Vale

Multas per gentes et multa per aequora vectus
advenio has miseras, frater, ad inferias,
ut te postremo donarem munere mortis
et mutam nequiquam adloquerer cinerem
quandoquidem fortuna mihi tete abstulit ipsum
heu miser indigne frater adempte mihi.
Nunc tamen interea haec, prisco quae more parentum
tradita sunt tristi munere ad inferias,
accipe fraterno multum manantia fletu,
atque in perpetuum, frater, ave atque vale.

Translation by Aubrey Beardsley

By ways remote and distant waters sped,
Brother, to thy sad grave-side am I come,
That I may give the last gifts to the dead,
And vainly parley with thine ashes dumb:
Since she who now bestows and now denies
Hath taken thee, hapless brother, from mine eyes.
But lo! these gifts, the heirlooms of past years,
Are made sad things to grace thy coffin shell,
Take them, all drenchèd with a brother’s tears,
And, brother, for all time, hail and farewell!

Source:
Hans Peter Syndikus "Catullus" Who's Who in the Classical World. Ed. Simon Hornblower and Tony Spawforth. Oxford University Press, 2000.

Catullus in on the list of Most Important Ancient People to Know

 

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